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Monday, February 28, 2011

Religion, Violence and War

  Over the past few weeks I have been in several conversations that have pointed out that all too often the cause for was is religion.  Some who did this were hostile, seeing it as a reason not to believe, others were pensive and reflective, lamenting this and wondering why, so I thought I would make an attempt on this blog to address the issue. 
   Let me begin by saying that I am not attempting to solve that problem.  That is beyond me. If per chance I succeed at that  please do nominate me for a Nobel Prize.
   Those of us who are believers and especially who are clergy in any religion should be humbled by this fact. It is interesting that just about every religion advocates non-violence, peace, forgiveness.  Nonetheless we have to admit that there is a great deal of passion regarding religion. Passion, when disconnected from the foundational spiritual experience on which religions are founded can lead to hatred and violence.  As Catholics, before we get too self-righteous about what a handful of Muslims have done recently,  need only to look to the Crusades, the Inquisition and the fights between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. And while I don't think that the Christian Churches of Germany were directly responsible for the Holocaust I do think that centuries of anti-Semitism in Europe, fostered often by Church leaders, contributed to that horror.
  So what are we to do?  Are we to be less passionate about our beliefs?  Certainly not. I am passionate about my Catholic faith.  I believe deeply in Jesus Christ and His presence in the Eucharist. I believe that His life and ministry continues in the Catholic Church and I know that I would not feel at home as a Baptist, or within many other Protestant denominations, although though I have many friends who belong to those Churches and I know that we share a common faith in Jesus Christ. I cherish the Jewish roots of Christianity and have been enriched by conversations with Bhuddists, Hindus and Muslims, as well as by reading some of their Sacred Texts. Yet I do not for a minute think of killing someone because their beliefs differ from mine. 
I am not unique in that.  It is hardly a boast.  Why?  Because I think that most believers deep down know that all people who genuinely seek God, truth, good are heading in the same direction.  Also as a Christian I know that Jesus, a Jew, dealt with Romans, Canaanites and others and saw the good in them.
  A final point I would make is that this history of violence between religions, as alarming as it is and as important as it is that we strive to end it, is a lame excuse for not believing or for not belonging to a Church of some sort.  There are many good reasons not to belong, but that is not one of them because it fails to look at the fact that the same religions that produced violence have also produced countless holy people (what we Catholics call saints) and have inspired countless projects to feed the hungry and take care of the sick and homeless.  This applies not only to the famous leaders and spiritual movements, but especially to the many great saints that I meet in every parish that I visit to preach.  I'm sure that this is so in countless churches, synagogues, mosques, Buddhist and Hindu shrines and places of worship as well.  This is the real fruit of religion and it should inspire us to continually dialogue so that the love of God that stands behind every religion does not go off course and lead to war.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

An Open Church--The Need for Reform

 I have stated before on this blog that one of the things that energizes me as a Catholic is the deep-rooted faith of the many good people that I meet in my travels as "The Wandering Friar". I like to emphasize that they, and not just the hierarchy, are the Church.  That having been said my attention turns to the hierarchy. I invite you to click on the two items below.  The one entitled German theologians is from the National Catholic Reporter and commented on in the blog of Daniel Horan, OFM, a brother friar.  As you go to his blog note also his comment on 4 things the Church can learn from the revolution in Egypt.  The second item, Irish Church, speaks of the dire situation of the Church in Ireland in light of the sex abuse crisis.

German Theologians
Irish Church

  I invite you to look at this material in broad terms. You may not agree with everything that is said, but I believe there is no doubt that there is a need for reform in the Church, reform of our way of doing business more than reform of doctrine or liturgy. The laity are part of the Church. They are the majority of the Church and their voice needs to be heard. There is way to much secrecy in the way decisions are made and the Vatican is weighed down with outdated modes of governance.  Does anyone know what a dicastery is? I'm a priest and I'm not sure that I know, except that it is some type of organizational structure at the Vatican. I think that the real problem is paternalism.  It is a particularly southern European cultural phenomenon that basically thinks that the "poor, simple laity ought not be bothered with the heavy concerns of the Church, forgetting that the laity today are quite well educated and capable of making a major contribution to the direction of the Church. Many American leaders are infected with the same belief. In my own Franciscan province I am happy that we see the laity as "Partners in Ministry" rather than as helpers of the priest.  The Church  at large needs to go in that direction as well.

  Just to be clear I am not advocating a Church that simply goes with the whims of the crowd, but one in which the Pope and the bishops lead by collaborating with the laity.  Also I am not throwing all the bishops under the bus.  There are some fine exceptions to this critique, but those exceptions are all too few. As a friar, priest and a man of faith I believe in the promise of the Lord at the end of Matthew's Gospel that He will be with us always.  The real question is not whether there will be a Catholic Church moving into the future, but whether it will be a youthful, vibrant and dynamic one.
Rhine, w

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Bible Tells Me So

   This week's daily Mass readings present us with the two creation accounts from the Book of Genesis.  Yes, there are 2 separate versions, one in Chapter one, the other in chapters two and 3.  Many do not know that the first five books of the Bible are a weaving together of four different traditions by four different authors.  What are we to make of these creation stories in this era when it is pretty clear that the universe is billions of years old and that some sort of evolutionary process brought it about and is still bringing it about. 

   I remember well a seminary Scripture professor who came into class with a large Bible. He dropped it on the desk with a thud and then said, "Gentlemen, every last word of this book is true, but not all of it happened." Any Catholic commentary on Scripture will tell you that the first 11 chapters of Genesis are not to be taken as literal history and certainly not as science.  It is unfortunate that many Catholics do not know this and that is why I am writing this blog entry.  We Catholics have no problem with evolution as long as we believe that there is a God who brought it all about and who still sustains us and continues to create.

   As I entered into this week I decided that I would strive to look past the literary critique of Genesis and ask myself, "What is God telling me (us) in these writings"?  I have come up with several answers to this question and they are the following, not necessarily in the order of importance:

   1.  However it all came about, it comes from God.
   2.  Everything God created is good and men and women are very good.
   3.  Unlike other creation stories from nations other than Israel at the time evil does not come from God. It is the product of free human choices.   Every human is Adam and Eve and we all ate the fruit. (A little Bible trivia-it says fruit, not apple).
    4. Humans have the obligation to use the goods of this earth responsibly.
    5. Woman is an equal partner to man.
    6. All is a gift from God.  There is no real human ownership of anything, though what we call private property is not a bad way of taking a loan from God as long as no one takes too much of it.

    So while creation didn't happen that way, the story reveals profound truth about God and our relationship to God.  These 6 points are not the only things Genesis tells us. Perhaps you can find others.